An Exploration of School-Related Social Correlates of Student Psychological Ill-Being


Over the years, research examining student psychological ill-being has sought to explain this phenomenon based on the influences of conditions that students bring into the school environment. This study uses a different lens by directly examining how school relational conditions might be associated with psychological ill-being in students. Using the framework of Self-Determination Theory and data from 2522 US public school students, findings from this study revealed that both faculty and peer relational conditions were significantly associated with psychological need frustration, which was used as the marker for student psychological ill-being. Further, students with free-reduced lunch status reported experiencing need frustration more than their counterparts with non-free-reduced lunch status. Need frustration at the school level was also found to be associated with differences in student perceptions of school relational conditions. Collectively, findings from this study provide potentially useful directions for school practitioners and other educational stakeholders by extracting valuable markers for managing the challenge of student psychological ill-being within the school environment.

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Author information




Both authors collaborated in the conception and design of the study. Author 1 drafted the work, and author 2 did a critical revision of the content before submission.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Olajumoke Beulah Adigun.

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Data collection was approved and administered by partnering institution and supported by the University of Oklahoma’s Institutional Review Board.

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Parents had the choice to remove students from participating in the survey, and students had the choice to voluntary participate through written consent before completing the surveys.

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The publication has been approved by all co-authors.

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• This study examined the school correlates of student psychological ill-being.

• At least one out of five students experience need frustration.

• Need frustration and student poverty were connected.

• Faculty and peer conditions were associated with student need frustration.

• Implications and future directions for need frustration research are discussed.


Appendix 1

Psychological Need Frustration
This scale measures the extent to which students’ feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are repressed within the school environment. All need frustration items were rated on a Likert Scale of 1 to 4 as follows: 1 = Rarely, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Often, 4 = Very often. The scale has also been used in multiple studies and demonstrated good construct and predictive validity. A test of reliability produced a Cronbach alpha value of .84, demonstrating strong internal consistency and reliability.
Faculty Relational Conditions Faculty Trust in Students Measures the quality of engagement between faculty and students.
Questions from this scale ask faculty about their view of the openness, honesty, reliability, competence, and benevolence of students. The measure contains three subscales with reliabilities ranging from .90 to .98. Factor analytic studies of the Omnibus T-Scale support the construct and discriminant validity of the concept (Forsyth et al., 2011; Tschannen-Moran et al., 2014).
Faculty Trust in Parents Measures the quality of engagement between faculty and the parents of their students. Questions from this scale ask faculty about their view of the openness, honesty, reliability, competence, and benevolence of the parents of their students. The measure contains three subscales with reliabilities ranging from .90 to .98. Factor analytic studies of the Omnibus T-Scale support the construct and discriminant validity of the concept (Forsyth et al., 2011; Tschannen-Moran et al., 2014).
Teacher Support of Students Autonomy Autonomy Support measures the degree to which students perceive that teachers provide choice, encourage independence, and support individual preference. Using Cronbach’s alpha test of reliability, a value of .77 with factor loadings ranging from .55 to .83 showed internal consistency among items. Items were derived from the Autonomy-Enhancement Scale (Assor, Kaplan, & Roth, 2002).
Teacher Support of Students Competence Competence Support measures students’ perception of their teachers’ support to help them attain higher levels of aptitude and achievement. High levels indicate that most teachers support and encourage students toward growth and achievement. Reliability, as measured by the Cronbach alpha, ranged from .79 to .93 suggesting strong internal consistency among the items. The survey was adapted from the Consortium on Chicago School Research available at (OCEP, 2017).
Teacher Perception of Student Readiness to Learn Measures teacher perception of the readiness of their students to learn in the classroom (OCEP, 2017).
Peer Relational Conditions Student Engagement Engagement of students was measured using the communication scale which assesses student perceptions of their own ability to remain tuned in to conversations, to listen with intent, and sustain inquiry while relating with others. Data were gathered using the Interaction Involvement Scale (Cegala, 1981). Responses to items fall within acceptable range of internal consistency. Factor analysis revealed a single eigenvalue over one. Cronbach’s alpha was .84, indicating strong internal consistency.
Peer Academic Emphasis Peer Academic Emphasis refers to the extent to which a student’s associative peer group demonstrates drive, or the lack thereof, toward academic excellence. The measure includes three sub-domains that include (1) Peer Academic Aspiration, (2) Peer Resistance to School Norms, and (3) Peer Academic Support. All factor solutions were established in a pilot study on an independent sample by Murdock (1994) and reconfirmed in Murdock (1999). Factor solutions for each of the scales were accepted provided they were conceptually consistent and had a sufficient number of uniquely loading items. Original Cronbach alphas (internal consistency) for the three subscales were .74, .73, and .70, respectively.
Bullying Bullying measures both explicit and non-explicit types of peer oppression. Student responses represent the extent to which they observe other students being victimized. Four forms of bullying considered include: teasing, rumor spreading, exclusion, and threats of, or actual, physical harm. Reliability was explored through test-retest procedures, and good agreement over time was stable (Bond, Butler, et al., 2007a).
Perception of Safety Safety measures the students’ sense of security in their classrooms, hallways, restrooms, and when commuting to and from school. High levels represent high sense of security in all these areas. Reliability, as measured by Cronbach’s alpha, ranged from .92 to .99 for the Safety Scale, suggesting strong internal consistency. The survey was adapted from the Consortium on Chicago School research and can be found at
Student Trust in Students Student Trust in Students measures the engagement between students, which includes the reliability of their peers, peers concern for other students, peer competence in learning, peer willingness to help, peer honesty, and peer openness. Higher student trust suggests that students perceive their peers as being open, honest, reliable, competent, and benevolent in their social interactions, and encourages students to build strong, lasting relationships with one another. Reliability, as measured by the Cronbach alpha, was .90 suggesting strong internal consistency among the items (Forsyth et al., 2011; Tschannen-Moran, 2014).

Appendix 2

Full correlation table for study variables—research question 2

  M (SD) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Need Frustration .00 (1.00) - −.42** −.31** .61** −.45** −.38** −.35** −.49** −.00 −.05 −.56**
Engagement 2.92 (.15)   - .46** −.49** .48** .39** .34** .38** .18 .22 .45**
Peer Academic Emphasis 2.96 (.16)    - -.44** .51** .52** .32** .37** .39** .36** .44**
Bullying 2.12 (.35)     - −.75** −.79** −.45** −.49** −.42** −.49** −.54**
Safety 3.22 (.23)      - .75** .41** .43** .59** .64** .48**
Student Trust in Students 2.66 (.29)       - .45** .42** .71** .75** .48**
Faculty Trust in Students 4.04 (.54)        - .89** .39** .34** .85**
Faculty Trust in Parents 3.59 (.71)         - .23 .23 .89**
Competence Support 3.21 (.29)          - .91** .26**
Autonomy Support 2.98 (.25)           - .22**
Student Readiness to Learn 3.17 (.86)            -
  1. Sample size (N) alternates between from 69 and 70 due to occasional missing data

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Adigun, O.B., Adams, C.M. An Exploration of School-Related Social Correlates of Student Psychological Ill-Being. Contemp School Psychol (2021).

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  • Psychological need frustration
  • Self-determination theory
  • Faculty relational conditions
  • Student ill-being
  • Peer relational conditions
  • School climate